SNP donor Sir Brian Souter has challenged Nicola Sturgeon’s claims that Brexit would devastate Scotland’s economy by insisting EU withdrawal is “not as big a deal as people are making out”.
The Stagecoach entrepreneur, who is the SNP’s best known business backer, suggested the economic damage caused by Brexit has been over-estimated.
There is a whole world of trade relationships out there. The question is whether we have the guts to make our own way in the world now we are out of this club.Brian Souter
His remarks made at Virgin Start-Up meeting in Edinburgh were reported by the DailyBusiness news website.
Sir Brian made his comments as the Scottish Government claimed a hard Brexit would result in Scotland losing billions of pounds in trade.
Sir Brian, who has donated millions of pounds to the SNP and the Yes campaign, said: “I am not so negative on Brexit as others seem to be,” he said. “There will be some challenges, but our currency has adjusted…I just think we are over-estimating the damage. Provided we get a settlement for our financial services sector we could be in a positive place.”
He added: “It [Brexit] is not as big a deal as people think. It will not have the impact that the financial crash, or the war in the Middle East will have on us.”
He accused both sides in the EU referendum campaign of being “hysterical and polarised”. He said the Brexit decision was a result of voters not trusting politicians and because they “did not want to be part of a European super-state”.
He said: “They wanted the project revisited and changed. They did not necessarily want to pull out.
“But it may prove to be good for Europe. We may end up with a sensible agreement.
“There is a whole world of trade relationships out there. The question is whether we have the guts to make our own way in the world now we are out of this club.
“I am not sure we have the strength of political leadership. We need to be really aggressive about how we intend to drive the UK economy forward.”
Sir Brian qualified his comments by saying he was “not a Brexiteer”, adding: “In fact I could not make up my mind which way to vote.”
The Scottish Government has claimed an economic report by the NIESR think tank suggests Scotland would lost £2.3 billion in service sector exports as a result of Brexit and another £3 billion in goods exports.
The Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: “The SNP has been doom-mongering about Brexit since day one, all in the hope that they can use our decision to leave the EU to push up support for independence. Sir Brian’s intervention is therefore very welcome and adds a much needed dose of reality to the debate. “Brexit presents both challenges and opportunities to Scotland and the UK. It is time the SNP acknowledged that - and further accepted that their reckless attempt to pull Scotland out of the UK union represents the real danger to our interests and our position in the world.”
A SNP spokesman said: “Brexit is far and away the biggest threat to Scotland’s economy, jobs and long-term prosperity, with a potential cost of up to £11.2 billion per year by 2030 and up to 80,000 lost jobs over the next decade.
“Sir Brian is one of Scotland’s biggest business success stories, and he is right to highlight the challenges involved in getting a solution for our financial services industry – something which is true for every other sector of the economy as well.”